Usually in Indian culture, maternal love is often gauged by dollops of ghee (clarified butter) heaped on your dal-rice, curries or hot rotis – but this saturated fat in question has often been implicated for clogging your arteries and affecting your heart health and blood glucose levels.
As a result, many health-conscious folks may have abandoned it, fearing it to be the cause of weight gain or high cholesterol.
Is ghee really a fat to be feared? If you are a diabetic and were asked to stay away from anything that could presumably lead to weight gain and spike your sugar levels, is ghee for you?
Mumbai based dietician and author of Yuktahar: Belly and Brain Diet, Munmun Ganeriwal highly recommends ghee for diabetics. “Diabetics should never shy away from ghee health benefits because when it is consumed along with carbs it reduces the glycaemic index of carbohydrates like rice or roti etc and doesn’t spike up your sugar levels,” reasons Ganeriwal.
According to Delhi based, consultant physician and non-invasive cardiologist at Max Smart Hospital Saket, Dr Mohit Singh Tandon, ghee has been demonised for a long time. “As medical students, we were always told that plaque builds up in arteries because of ghee, but you must realise that not all fats are bad when taken in moderation,” reasons Tandon.
Tandon feels till a few years ago all fat-containing foods were vilified because they were believed to be associated with an increase in cholesterol levels. According to Tandon, “consuming ghee up to five to ten per cent of the total diet calories have no deleterious effect on the serum cholesterol (the amount of total cholesterol in the blood) and triglyceride (fats from the food) levels. New research has suggested that all sources of fats are not bad and healthy fat in moderation is actually good for you.”
In an article published in foodandnutritionresearch.net in Nov 2016, a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen claimed that the intake of dairy products was associated with a neutral or reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke.
However, Dr Anoop Misra, endocrinologist and chairman of Fortis-C-DOC Centre of Excellence for Diabetes and National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundations (N-DOC), and president of Diabetes Foundation India, always advises ghee to be consumed sparingly and recommends oils like olive, canola, mustard and soybean for cooking. According to Dr Misra, ghee is best avoided because the saturated fats in ghee may cause liver-related issues (fatty liver and insulin resistance) if the quantity is not kept under check.
Benefits of ghee
Reduces appetite: Dr Tandon suggests incorporating ghee into your diet to beat your hunger pangs. He says that it is a calorie-dense fat and once you have the right amount of ghee in your diet, it satiates you. “When you have something that is made or topped with a spoonful of ghee you don’t feel hungry for a couple of hours and don’t end up overeating,” he reasons.
Taste enhancer: The aroma and taste of ghee can elevate the taste of the simplest of preparations. “Since diabetics can’t have much fried food, adding a spoonful of ghee to their diets like brown rice and dal would make it more palatable for them,” says Tandon.
Ganeriwal always doesn’t like to quantify the amount of ghee to be consumed and suggests that sometimes diabetics need to rely on their sense of well-being or better judgement. For instance, if a diabetic is having millet khichdi, while millet is a great food option for diabetics considering it takes care of blood glucose level, it is also coarse and fibrous so it would require more ghee than just a spoonful. “But if you don’t team it with ghee it might cause you constipation, but if ghee is mixed with the khichdi then it also makes the bowel moment easy,” explains Ganeriwal.
Health booster: Apart from curbing your hunger pangs ghee also has a great reputation as an immunity booster. “Ghee has a gamut full of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K apart from Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants,” adds Tandon.
The Indian system of Ayurveda too has always valued ghee as an essential ingredient.
“Many Ayurvedic medicines incorporate ghee because ghee is known to be yogavahi which means it works like an agent that brings out the benefits and qualities of whatever medicines it is teamed with and carries it to the tissues of the body. It is also known as pittashamak which means it reduces the pitta or inflammation in the body. Ayurveda also calls ghee medhya which refers to its memory boosting quality,” says Dr Sugeeta Mutreja, Ayurvedic consultant and nutritionist at Arogya Diets and Nutrition Clinic, Delhi.
Apart from general health, diabetics also need to take good care of their eye health. “When mixed with triphala churna (made with three medicinal fruits) and consumed, the concoction is known to balance all three doshas (kapha, pitta and vata, the energetic forces of nature in Ayurveda)) and boost eye health,” suggests Mutreja.
Anti-inflammatory/aids digestion: The butyric acid (a fatty acid) in the ghee helps in ingesting food better and has anti-inflammatory properties. “When the good bacteria in the gut break down the fibre in the food, butyric acid is made,” explains Dr Tandon. Once digestion is taken care of, diabetes-related issues and sugar levels too can be kept under check.
High smoking point: Ghee has a high smoking point which means as compared to other fats and oil it doesn’t get heated up too soon (which destroys nutrients and releases free radicals). “Ghee has a high smoking point and doesn’t get oxidised too fast, making it a good cooking and frying option,” says Ganeriwal.
Helps fight obesity: Dr Tandon points out that the fat-soluble vitamins and omega-6 fatty acid known as CLA or conjugated linolenic acid present in ghee is found to help with weight loss.
According to an article published in the Diabetes Journal of the American Diabetes Association in April 2009, food containing butyric acid prevents diet-induced insulin resistance and obesity in mice. The researchers have claimed this to be an initial confirmation though.
Low glycaemic index: Fats slow down the digestive process. S0 when a significant amount of ghee is added to your food, it will bring down the glycaemic index (how fast carbs burn and get converted into sugar). “This helps by not spiking your sugar levels,” says Tandon. So, if you are having ghee in your diet, it is a healthy addition provided it doesn’t exceed the calorie count prescribed to you by your dietician.
Make at home
Instead of randomly picking mass-produced ghee packets off the shelf, you could look for the ones made using the bilona (traditional wooden churner) method.
You can get the most nutritious ghee when it is made with overnight fermented curd blended with the malai (cream.) “This when churned using a bilona and not an industrial mixer or blender at home gives far more superior flavours and nutrition profile,” reasons Ganeriwal.
Word of caution
Some recipes call for a lot of ghee but that doesn’t mean that diabetics have to always go for those. Benefits of eating ghee is when consumed in moderation like most other foods for diabetics.
When consuming ghee you need to follow the ‘RRR formula’ suggests Ganeriwal:
Right Quantity: Although the right quantity of ghee would depend on the recipe, one teaspoon of ghee in each meal can be a good measure.
Right Quality: The quality of the ingredients and the process involved in making ghee makes a lot of difference in the nutrients you would consume.
Right Time: Ghee can be a part of all your meals. Fried pooris, vadas and sheera are best eaten during lunch as the body’s metabolism is at its peak around noon.